Detail View: The AMICA Library: Eleven-Headed Guanyin

AMICA Library Year: 
Object Type: 
Creator Nationality: 
Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Dates/Places: 
Creator Name-CRT: 
China, Late Northern Song Dynasty
Eleven-Headed Guanyin
Title Type: 
Full View
Creation Date: 
c. 1101-1127
Creation Start Date: 
Creation End Date: 
Materials and Techniques: 
wood with traces of pigment and cut gold
Overall: 218.5cm
AMICA Contributor: 
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Owner Location: 
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
ID Number: 
Credit Line: 
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund
The Indian Buddhist deity Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin in Chinese) assumed great importance in Far Eastern Buddhism. As a spiritual attendant to the Historical Buddha Shakyamuni (see page 37), Avalokiteshvara served as one of a number of bodhisattvas, enlightened souls who benefit humankind. In China, Guanyin was thought to be the most benevolent of the bodhisattvas. Hearing the prayers of those in need, Guanyin was described as the divine being that most nearly approached the Buddha in holiness. Envisionedwith a mystical third eye to aid in his search for the troubled, Guanyin came to be selected as the primary subject for the paintings and sculptures of Buddhist altars, especially since the Song. The museum's monumental standing image of Guanyin was carved from a single massive block of willow wood nearly eight feet tall. In the esoteric form seen here, the deity's primary head was enhanced by eleven smaller ones, symbolic of Guanyin's search for needy believers. As in some earlier Chinese sculptural styles, the superhuman yet approachable deity is shown in Indian fashion with bare torso and long skirt anchored at the waist. The pose is foreign, too, and the flexed body--characterized by inclined torso, projecting right hip, and forward left leg--revealsthe gentle sway of the Indian tribhanga (three-bent) posture. In the deeply cut high-relief forms of scarves, sashes, jewelry, and garment, however, the sculptor reveals the Chinese penchant to blend sculptural form with linear pattern. In cases like this,the weight of the heavy cascading cloth is mitigated by the ethereal, almost weightless impression created by the lively hem. Only traces remain of the surface pigments that once ornamented the sculpture. The flesh was originally gilded, and aspects ofthecostume were enriched with blue, green, black, and red. Most surprising are traces of cut gold (jiejin) on the apron near the waist. In this painstaking method of embellishment, thin strips of cut gold leaf were applied to fine patterns that had beendrawn with glue on the surface of the sculpture. After it was attached, the gold would be burnished with a soft cloth. Used to suggest the patterns of embroidered or woven cloth, jiejin was especially popular in Far Eastern sculpture and painting. Despite theprevalence of the technique in early literary sources, however, few early examples of jiejin have survived, no doubt because of the fragility of the medium. K.W.
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